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The Man in the Iron Mask (1939 film)

The Man in the Iron Mask
Directed by James Whale
Produced by Edward Small
Written by George Bruce
Starring Louis Hayward
Joan Bennett
Warren William
Joseph Schildkraut
Music by Lucien Moraweck
Cinematography Robert H. Planck
Edited by Grant Whytock
Edward Small Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
July 13, 1939 (1939-07-13)
Running time
110 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1 million[1]

The Man in the Iron Mask is a 1939 American film very loosely adapted from the last section of the novel The Vicomte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas, père, which is itself based on the French legend of the Man in the Iron Mask.

The film is notable for containing the first screen role for Peter Cushing.[2] It was also notable for being the source of several subsequent remakes. The film was directed by James Whale and stars Louis Hayward as royal twins, Joan Bennett as Princess Maria Theresa, Warren William as d'Artagnan, and Joseph Schildkraut as Nicolas Fouquet.


The 1939 adaptation alters history significantly by making Fouquet (Joseph Schildkraut) a thoroughly evil, scheming mastermind. He, Colbert (Walter Kingsford), d'Artagnan (Warren William) and the musketeers are the only ones who know of the existence of a twin brother, and Fouquet uses his influence to keep everyone silent. The main story was changed by portraying Louis XIV as selfish, cruel, and incompetent, and Philippe the kind-hearted brother who is raised by d'Artagnan and the musketeers and does not even know that he has an identical twin.

When the truth is discovered, Louis XIV has Philippe imprisoned with an iron mask placed on his head, hoping that Philippe's beard will grow inside the mask and eventually suffocate him. Philippe is rescued by the musketeers, who break into the sleeping Louis's chamber and imprison him in the mask. The guards drag off Louis and lock him in the Bastille, mistaking him for the escaped Philippe.

When Louis manages to get a message to Fouquet, he is freed, and a chase by coach ensues to stop Philippe from cementing an alliance with Spain by marrying Princess Maria Theresa (Joan Bennett), whom he loves, and taking Louis' place on the throne. The coach is waylaid by the musketeers, who all die heroically, but Fouquet and the real Louis XIV are also killed when the driverless coach plunges off a cliff. The mortally wounded d'Artagnan survives long enough to exclaim "God Save the King!" at Philippe's wedding, and then falls dead. Philippe finally assumes the throne.



The film was the third movie producer Edward Small made under his new agreement for United Artists. James Whale was signed as director in September 1938.[3] Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., whose father had starred as D'Artagnan in the 1929 epic version The Iron Mask, was originally announced as male star[4] and met with director James Whale. However producer Edward Small insisted on Louis Hayward, who had just made The Duke of West Point for him.[1]

Louis Hayward played D'Artagnan in a gender-switched 1952 remake entitled Lady in the Iron Mask with Patricia Medina in the titular role and Alan Hale, Jr. as Porthos, the part his father Alan Hale, Sr. had portrayed in the 1939 version.


The first film adaptation of Dumas' novel to allow for the lasting triumph of the good twin over the evil twin was Douglas Fairbanks' 1929 version of the tale, The Iron Mask (although in this case the good twin was the one already on the throne, raised under the tutelage of D'Artagnan, and it was he who had to be rescued when the evil twin was put onto the throne). The 1939 version flips this around so that the evil twin, Louis, sits on the throne and the good twin, Phillipe, is raised by D'Artagnan and must eventually win the throne. The staging of several other scenes are borrowed from the 1929 version, most importantly the ending. The ending of the 1939 version, with the ghosting of the figures of the four musketeers together (presumably in heaven), is a direct homage to the ending of the 1929 Douglas Fairbanks' film in which Athos, Porthos, and Aramis greet D'Artagnan upon his death and they in a ghosted image head off together for the "greater adventure beyond."

Most subsequent film versions, including the 1977 version and the 1998 version, have followed the basic outline of the 1939 film (and its borrowings from the 1929 version), not of the original novel.

The English band Iron Maiden was named by founder Steve Harris after seeing the film.


  1. ^ a b Selznick Quests New Serious Lombard Idea Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Dec 1938: 28.
  2. ^ review
  3. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOOLYWOOD: Edward Small Signs James Whale to Direct Remake of 'Man in the Iron Mask' OPENING AT RIALTO TODAY New George O'Brien-Picture, 'Painted Desert,' and 'Gift of Gab'. on Same Bill New Picture for Dick Powell Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 13 Sep 1938: 28.
  4. ^ Second Costarring of Davis, Flynn Planned: 'Iron Mask' Story Begun Truex Set for 'Ambush' Helen Parrish Signed Joseph Calleia Tests Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 Sep 1938: 15.

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